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Buffett pressures Coke privately on compensation plan after publicly abstaining: WSJ

Investor Warren Buffett poses for a portrait during an interview after a luncheon to benefit the Glide Foundation of San Francisco in New Yo
Investor Warren Buffett poses for a portrait during an interview after a luncheon to benefit the Glide Foundation of San Francisco in New Yo

(Reuters) - The Coca-Cola Co is likely to revise its controversial equity compensation plan for executives before it goes into effect in 2015, following pressure from Warren Buffett, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Buffett, chairman of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway , made his reservations about the plan known privately in recent weeks to Coca-Cola's Chief Executive Muhtar Kent in three conversations, the Journal quoted sources as saying.

As of February 24, Berkshire owned 400 million shares of the company, just over 9 percent of the shares outstanding, according to Thomson Reuters data

Buffett said last week that he thought Coca-Cola's controversial equity compensation plan was excessive, but Berkshire Hathaway abstained in the shareholders vote.

Buffett, in an interview with CNBC, said he and partner Charlie Munger did not want to vote against the plan because he did not want to show disapproval of Coca-Cola's management.

On Tuesday, Buffett said that he had spoken to Kent "multiple times" and to his son Howard Buffett "very briefly" in reference to the equity compensation plan, adding that his son served Coca-Cola shareholders and not Berkshire on the beverage maker's board.

Buffett's pressure adds to that from critics, most notably activist investor David Winters, who said the plan would dilute the holdings of current shareholders too much.

Coca-Cola had said last week that 83 percent of shareholders approved the plan. Spokesman Petro Kacur said in an emailed statement to Reuters that "no changes are being made to the plan at this time."

The expected changes include awarding fewer options per staffer each year, so the pool of options in the new plan lasts longer, the Journal said, quoting a source.

Another choice could be a longer vesting period for options than the four years the plan calls for. A third move would involve flipping the 60-40 percent split between stock options and performance units, the Journal said.

(Reporting by Sampad Patnaik in Bangalore and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Wills)